Wednesday, May 15, 2019

On culture and identity of belonging: A message to the Sudanese and South Sudanese people in Victoria

By Wilma Madut Ring*

"As women become independent, they have also become outspoken. It has thus become a threat to some men and their feelings become a mixed bag. On the one hand, some do think that re-marrying is an option out of this, while on the other hand, others have felt downright emasculated."


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Dear Melbournians, the  South Sudanese people to be precise. Do you think we have seen it all? Do you think we have seen that: I mean in the aftermath of yesteryears, in regard to our culture and the notions around identity and belonging? Do you think we have seen the true reaping of what we sowed years ago? Do you really think so? After all, did we really sow anything like seeds and that there’s something to be reaped? Did we really live it out well to be seen today? 

I am sorry to have bothered you, my potential readers, with questions regarding our social, economic, and political location in our host society: Australia. I think we have not seen it all and as a whole: The idea that people are bound by certain values and beliefs of significance to them. This requires cooperation and role-specific obligations on the roles of every man and woman across a given people and their society. 

I have the roles of two people in mind: One is the role of the woman and the other is the role of the man in our society. By “in our society” I refer mainly to the way these roles are shaped by our previous culture (back home) as Sudanese and South Sudanese people prior to migration or resettlement in Australia. No doubt a lot has changed. 

However, very little, if any, has changed in relation to our assumptions on the individual roles of women and men at the family level. Could this have something to do with place or modernity? This being the case, however, we need to also be aware that: We Belong to two different cultures and each one of these cultures requires given specifics to be met. We have to meet both the Australian and Sudanese cultural expectations on us. This explains as to why our experiences may be somehow daunting.

In what follows, I will talk about these roles in terms of our post-settlement experiences here in Australia, particularly Melbourne, Victoria. Melbourne is home to many of us. We meet in Footscray, Melbourne, and that is very frequent. Often we also meet in Blacktown, Sydney, and in Mirrabooka, Perth, Western Australia. Regardless of the place, the issues we discuss are either common or just one: Women have changed a lot. Their new-found sense of freedom is unfavorable to men.

First to the Women’s freedom and the Men’s social rebellion

As women become independent, they have also become outspoken. It has thus become a threat to some men and their feelings become a mixed bag. On the one hand, some do think that re-marrying is an option out of this, while on the other hand, others have felt downright emasculated. They feel as if they are no longer men. Their roles have been usurped. I actually think that men are to blame, too. Their response to women’s claims of their freedom is also a disservice to our young families and the people we would love to bring up outside Sudan and South Sudan. 

Men in return have stopped doing great on the women and children’s best. They have lost their sentimental value in cherishing and upholding their family’s roots. Men's minds shouldn't be that much fixated on a culture that has got a distance with us--as per now. We ought to focus here: on the things right beneath our noses. This is why I say we haven’t seen it yet. Because yesteryears were kind of a warm up to a new found life that is…It was warming up to new-found culture.

Note also that we are not talking feminism here. No. We are talking about a culture that is rigid to allow a total change on the roles of an individual person in a foreign, host society to the new voices and freedom for women. It was kind of a new way of not burdening the men with huge responsibilities. We are in a place where division of labour is paramount. No one should be regarded as the sole provider or breadwinner for the family as it has always been the case with our previous culture.
It has been a new-found voice for everyone; for our children, too. And, yes, they are children. Just because they do not turn up often in community meetings doesn't mean they are unaware of our challenges and the barriers we face in this country. In our new country, they also have got rights to freedom of speech and association. They know when to object to their parents’ grievances and when not to. 

Women can’t be subjects to their husbands and have rights to say no to the overbearing in-laws and their constant shenanigans. 

Whether they be men or relatives, it ought to be understood that a lot has changed. Men can choose to not take up certain responsibilities. This for sure can happen. It can happen because somehow they have been ripped off their “powers”. Women have become independent and have rights to live their lives freely without control and constraints. This new found-freedom, our sense of freedom, has for the case of Sudanese/South Sudanese women, been mistaken for disrespect and loss of values. We’re refugees and we came from somewhere. Others also came from somewhere just like us. We’re meeting them here, too, for the first time.

While some men have clearly lost the plot, some have taken the advantage of partnering and collaborating with their better halves to prosper and so have some women, too. What we’re doing is no freedom, but somewhat, a tit for tat. That is to say: Do it like it has been done onto you. Some women may have found the need to feel powerful than their individual men or husbands. And that individually could solidify on their new-found needs and undermine their partners. 

The result is a total demoralization on the part of their partners. A man breaks away and the woman is left to shoulder it all alone, becoming the so-called single mom while the man is off to marry or looming somewhere around in Footscray. 

While children have found this marital loophole as a way to venture out on their own world, their fathers and dads are on their own search for soul-partners. The mothers are stranded with them. A brand new way out is urgently needed, otherwise, this is one such reason I say that we are not getting it. 

Precisely, which culture should we embrace and which of the two societies should we belong to?

*Wilma Madut Ring is a community mental health advocate living Melbourne, Australia. For more information, contact the author at

Editorial Note:  The views expressed in the article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of THE PHILOSOPHICAL REFUGEE. For the veracity of the claims in the article, please contact the author.

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